Favorite PbtA Assist Mechanics?

I’ve been working on a PbtA game for awhile and one section I’ve continued to leave more or less blank is the Assist move. Some sort of move or moves to encourage teamwork and PC interaction is great of course, but I’ve always felt like the traditional AW “Help/Hinder, give +1/-2” has been one of the drier PbtA moves.

I was wondering if anyone had seen or come up with takes on assists that they prefer to that system? Masks is the game that jumps out the most to me, with asking questions at the start of an encounter to gauge the internal cohesion of the team and generate team points that can be spent to assist. I like Blades in the Dark’s system as well (it’s 2 stress to boost yourself, 1 stress to boost someone else, so there’s a clear incentive to help each other).

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Scum & Villainy, based on Blades in the Dark, takes this a step further with gambits, which are sort of “team points” (as you say about Masks).

Gambits are a resource that represents the accumulation of good luck, weird circumstances, and fate that befalls heroes of the genre, and the opportunities that can be seized when a crew takes chances. It is a crew resource, usable by any member…

These gambits get replenished a few ways, including any time a crew member rolls a full or critical success on a risky action (that didn’t have a gambit spent on it). This means that, if you take risks and do well, you’re also contributing to the potential success of your fellow crew members in an abstracted way.

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My favorite (which I think I heard on a Discern Realities podcast?) is to automatically grant a simple bonus to the roll (+1, best 2 of 3d6, whatever), without a separate roll, but the helper also opens themself up to shared consequences.

[Edited for clarity.]

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I’m pretty sure that’s just the core move, right? Certainly it is in Dungeon World, and I’d assume in Apocalypse World.

No, the core move in Dungeon World is a separate roll + Bond (which is tricky if you don’t even use Bonds in your game). The core move in Apocalypse World is a separate roll + Hx. In either case, this can result in the original person nailing the roll without even needing help, and the helper rolling a miss and suffering consequences of their own, which really discourages helping anybody else at all. I also just find it tricky to think through as a GM/MC. That’s why I like variants that just give the bonus automatically, albeit at some risk to the helper so it’s not just a no-brainer to do every roll. You also have to explain how you’re helping too, of course.

Ah, but I see now I failed to specify granting the bonus automatically in my previous post, so I can see where the confusion was. I’ve edited that for clarity.

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I’m a big fan of “when you help someone who’s about to roll, they get +1 (or advantage) but you are exposed to any risks, costs, or consequences.

(Which is basically what @JasonT said.)

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Something related that I really like from Stonetop is the “Struggle As One” move. The basic idea is that it’s a Defy Danger roll that the entire group makes. A 7-9 means you’re fine, a 6- means you’re in trouble, and a 10+ means you’re fine and you can get one person out of trouble.

My group found a lot of situations where this move worked really well to portray a group using teamwork to overcome an obstacle.

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I really like the Masks approach, where you spend one from a pool (the Team Pool), narrate how you’re helping, and grant them +1 automatically. It emphasizes teamwork, creates an interesting economy (other moves, especially “Enter Battle against a Dangerous Foe as a Team” add to the Team Pool), and allows the whole table to do some narrative shaping. If that move really should work, people can spend from the Team Pool to make it work. If everyone (often including the person who rolled the move) agrees that a miss was well-deserved, then folks can play it as a lays.

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In Freebooting Venus (an unfinished PbtA game Vincent Baker was working on for a while), each move tells you how another character can help. They feel very organic and don’t have or don’t need mechanical components. I like that a lot. For example:

When you “demand something” of someone, they give you some requirements for acceding to your demand. The rules say:

“If another PC helps you, they can do it by doing the thing(s) instead of you.”

When you “size someone up”, you get to ask them questions. The rules say:

“Since this is a process of personal acuity and judgment, other PCs can’t help you. They can size the same person up themselves, of course, and you might compare observations afterward.”

Very slick. I love this.

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Oh, that’s interesting! Would take a little more work designing each move, but I like it.

Do you think the assist should be declared explicitly before somebody rolls, or should people be able to intervene after someone has rolled a 6-?

With a “declare you do it, grant the bonus, but expose yourself to risk/cost” approach, I definitely think you should declare before hand. If you use a static bonus (like a flat +1 or +2), this approach flat-out needs to be a “declare-before-the-roll” thing. Otherwise, you’d only see people Aiding if the aid would shift the result, and that often makes the decision risk-free. If Aid grants advantage instead of a flat bonus, there’s a little leeway (because you don’t know if the advantage will or won’t shift the result, or how much). But it still works better as a declare-before-you-roll.

I used to have this as part of my Aid rolls:

image

Which basically meant that on a 6 or a 9 (or maybe an 11), someone could say they want to help and you’d tell them the requirements or consequences to shift the result. Which works okay, but I never liked how this took the spotlight away from the original character who was rolling.

In Dungeon World (and DW-adjacent) games, it also conflicts a little with Defend and similar moves that let the PC jump in and help/take the hit/etc.

In the end, I removed the “jump in to help another character who just rolled” part from the Aid move and made a playbook-specific move for the class that was all about supporting others and teamwork.

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in my game (Don’t pay the Ferryman) mid range results in
+1 Forward for Assisted. Assister must discuss it with someone from their Fate Weave later.

Fate Weave is like your party bonds. The point is their aid was noticeable/meaningful, if its not going to create a narrative waterfall/snowball, it should at least generate conversation.

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Another balance question: I usually prefer advantage (best 2 of 3d6+stat) over a +1, because rolling the extra die has a higher level of uncertainty and seems more exciting to me. The general rule in games I’ve seen is that you either have advantage or you don’t, you can’t have double advantage. Would you maintain this rule for giving someone an extra die for an assist, or let them roll best 2 of 4d6+stat?

Having to reject someone’s help because you already got advantage from a previous move or ability seems a little disappointing, but I don’t have a great sense of whether or not “best 2 of 4d6” would be too powerful. I believe I’ve read before that an extra die is roughly equivalent to +1.5. So in AW, a +1 forward from a move and a follow-up assist gets you +2, whereas this would give you +3? Doesn’t seem like the end of the world, but the bounds on 2d6 are pretty narrow-- you would effectively roll 2d6+6 if you had a +3 in a stat (if that’s correct), with 0 chance of failure. Then again, rolling 2d6+5 in AW also means you can’t fail, so I don’t know.

I know Masks lets you stack forwards but you can never roll more than +4, so it’s always slightly possible to roll a 6, but I don’t know how you’d impose a similar restriction if you’re mixing +stat and +1d.

Advantage is already very strong, so allowing “double advantage” is probably too much. Here’s a table showing what percentage chance you have of rolling any given total using 2-5 dice on a +0 check:

      2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9   10   11   12
2   2.8  5.6  8.3 11.1 13.9 16.7 13.9 11.1  8.3  5.6  2.8
3   0.5  1.4  3.2  5.6  8.8 12.5 15.7 16.7 15.7 12.5  7.4
4   0.1  0.3  1.2  2.5  5.0  8.3 13.2 17.3 20.1 18.8 13.2
5   0.0  0.1  0.4  1.0  2.7  5.2 10.0 15.4 21.8 23.7 19.6

As you can see, even just 3 dice (regular advantage) moves the odds of 6- from around 42% down to around 20%. On 4 dice the odds of 6- are just 9% and on 5 dice the odds are about 4%. In my opinion these are too low given the roll we’re talking about is at +0 (you can compute the odds for +1, +2, etc. by just summing the percentages up to 5, 4, and so on).

If you want to encourage “group help” over “solo help” I would consider only allowing advantage when the entire group (or more than one person) is helping.

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Haven’t done the math, but another way one might do “stacking” advantage is to have the first advantage for be a d4 and each extra source of advantage step the die up by 1 size.

IIRC, best 2 of 2d6+1d4 is about equal to 2d6+1. [b]2 of 3d6 is about 2d6+1.5. Not sure it keeps ramping up at that same +0.5 per die, and I’m too lazy to math it right now.

Has problems, though. Doesn’t work the same for disadvantage, so you’d have to come up with something else.

Also, d4s are the least fun die to roll (objectively, you are wrong and bad if you disagree).

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I strongly prefer ‘assist’ mechanics that are a pool that the players draw on when needed. The platonic ideal of this is Team in Masks, but the Night Witches Mission Pool serves the same function. It lets the group decide what rolls they REALLY want to make, and at least in Night Witches, eliminates the chokepoint of Assistance only being really viable on a 6 or a 9.

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I enjoy the pool mechanics for sure. Those chokepoints seem like one of the classic shortcomings of assist moves, so I do like how Night Witches gets around those by letting you spend multiple-- would spending a point that lets you directly improve the result of a roll work too (6- becomes a 7-9, 7-9 becomes 10+)? I guess you’d lose some of the texture you have in Night Witches where taking a 6 to a 7 is a lot less of an investment than taking a 2 to a 7?

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As a quick aside only, d4s are great if you use these.

To stay on topic, I vastly prefer granting a straight +1 bonus (or advantage) with the person assisting facing the consequences. I’ve been running an on-again-off-again MOTW campaign and whenever we have to resolve the original move AND the help out move, it just feels like too much for one “action.”

In our Freebooters game, on the other hand, things have been going well with the stock move:

When you assist or interfere with someone, explain how your actions help or hinder them. If the Judge agrees, they take +1 or -1 to their roll, your choice. Then, you may mark bonds you have with that person to increase or decrease that modifier further, 1-for-1. If you interfere with them against their wishes, erase 1 bond with them. Only one character may Help or Hinder a given character at a time.

It doesn’t explicitly say that the person aiding is open to the consequences, but that’s how I end up running it anyway–or I’ll offer a choice in the first place: “sure, you can help out, but if this goes bad, you’re taking the brunt of it.”

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I feel like I need to be careful in employing stuff like this, because it runs the real risk of overshadowing the spotlight player’s actual Move with figuring out what happens to the helper(s). The ‘nesting’ of action and consequence that can happen here is why I prefer those Team-based mechanics; it keeps the helping on-screen but comfortably off-spotlight.

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